September touts suicide, mental health awareness

PennySitler

September has been quite a month at Mental Health America of Licking County. It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and Recovery Month.

We know that one in five – yes, I said one in five – people experience a mental health issue every year in the United States. So it’s really important to bring attention and awareness to the causes, signs and symptoms of mental illness so people can get help early and get on the road to recovery.

Have you read Brandon Sneed’s recent article about The Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer’s struggle with mental health concerns? I applaud Urban and his wife Shelley for speaking up and sharing their story.

Any time well-known people talk about their experiences with anxiety, depression, substance use or other mental health disorders, their words go viral. I consider this phenomenon a gift to the one in five who also live with such a struggle. I hope that it opens their eyes and the eyes of everyone around them to the fact that mental health concerns are normal, common and treatable.

For too long, our society has considered mental health issues as taboo. It’s time for that to stop. Did you know that breast cancer used to be treated the same way? People were afraid to talk about it or to be in the same room with someone afflicted with the disease.

Thank goodness Betty Ford was brave enough to speak out about the fact that it could be detected early and treated back in 1974. Today, we don’t hesitate to offer all kinds of support to breast cancer patients and we celebrate survivors with pink ribbons and fund raisers galore. I look forward to the day that we treat people with mental illness diagnoses the same way.

In Sneed’s article, Urban Meyer is quoted as saying, “It’s no different to me than, say, a hamstring injury. You don’t just ignore a hamstring injury. And you have to address it.”

It’s time we all start considering mental health issues the same as physical health issues. When your hamstring is hurt, you see a doctor and do all you can to repair it. When your brain is ill, the same thing should happen.

The price of not dealing with mental health issues as they occur is huge. On average people wait ten years from onset of symptoms to diagnosis of a mental health disorder, often not understanding what is happening to them until after they’ve been hospitalized or jailed and are terribly ill. Outcomes would be significantly better if they could begin working toward recovery when they first notice their symptoms.

Suicide can be a tragic result of not addressing mental health disorders. Through August 22, we have lost 23 individuals to suicide in Licking County. That is 23 too many. As a member of the Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) Team, I have heard the heartbreak of surviving family members who have to figure out how to carry on following such a devastating loss. We are trying very hard to get the message out to people through our Suicide Prevention program that there is help available and that treatment does work.

I hope everyone reading this will join MHA in thinking of mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, seeking prevention services for all, early identification and intervention for those at risk, and integrated care and treatment for those who need it, with recovery as the goal. Call us at 740-522-1341 if we can be of help to you in any way.

Penny Sitler is executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County.

Found in The Newark Advocate September 24, 2016

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